Most of us have probably seen them by this point, the lists and summaries out there of all the incredible mentally (and sometimes physically) beneficial things one can do in a lucid dream. Some of the highlights include:
- Adventure and Fantasy
- Overcoming Nightmares
- Creativity and Problem Solving
- Healing (Physical and Emotional)
- Spiritual Insight and Transcendance
I’ve written before on how appealing this can be to someone at a low point in life, and in interviews since, I’ve been increasingly open about the fact that this was what drew me to lucid dreaming. Obviously, the first step towards having these incredible experiences is to start becoming lucid in your dreams. What follows for many people in those early stages are dreams in which you know you are dreaming, but may find yourself in rather mundane environments unable to exert much control over the dream or over yourself within the dream. You may not even catch a glimpse of the relevant people, places, or things you were hoping to interact with.
This is all perfectly normal by the way. It seems to be part of the process for most of us. As you continue having lucid dreams, dream control and self-control within dreams can be developed. Experimenting with dream incubation or learning how to have WILDs can also help you find yourself in the desired environments and situations you feel are best for accomplishing your lucid dream goals.
I’ve been at this a little while, and I feel I’ve experienced and thought enough about lucid dreaming to at least overcome my imposter syndrome to blog and speak on the topic. So it’s second nature for me to have lucid dreams about the things I want to dream about on a regular basis right? Well… no.
My dream control has steadily improved over the years, but I don’t think I’m a very good dream incubator. I have a tendency to lay in bed too uptight about it. I will wake up in the middle of the night, create an elaborate plan for what I want to dream about and what I want to occur, and get so serious and determined about it that I can’t fall back asleep. Clearly, I need to cultivate a different kind of relationship with effort moving forward. I will definitely continue working on that, but I’ve discovered a kind of non-approach in the meantime that has proved paradoxically effective.
Initially, the mind’s habit of creating dreams for us that bear little resemblance to what we actually want to be doing in our lucid dreams is an irritating obstacle to be overcome. However, as you become more familiar with the contents of your own mind and a more adept lucid dreamer, you may have lucid and non-lucid dreams where the unconscious mind seems like it has a better sense of what you need than the conscious planning mind does. Two examples in particular come to mind from my recent dreams.
Given the unplanned, improvised nature of these examples, it’s hard to say what prompts these lucid dreams or makes them possible. My best guess is it’s primarily a matter of being in touch with one’s self. Yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices can help in that respect. Lucid dreaming itself can also help expand self-knowledge and self-attunement. Perhaps the act of having a lucid dream itself develops certain mental “muscles,” creating a positive feedback loop where the moments of lucidity you have now help to develop the “muscles” required to have the lucid dreams you need in the future.
My Literal Worst Nightmare
Last December, I had a dream so bad that the sheer volume of all the awful things that happened in it verges on comical. Let’s run through some of them:
- A painful overdose on junk food.
- The death and funeral of a family member.
- The last people I would ever want to see showed up for the funeral.
- I felt guilty about my efforts to avoid those people being more important to me than grieving and paying my respects.
- I was naked and going to the bathroom in front of people.
- While still on the toilet, my Dad confronted me with his suspicions that I’ve got a cocaine problem.
- The deceased family member rose from the dead to call me a failure to my face… I was still on the toilet of course.
- Instead of serving as a sign I was dreaming, seeing the dead person made me think I was having a psychotic break.
The list actually continues, but you get the idea. Also, I don’t have a cocaine problem, not in waking life at least. The dream was bad. It felt bad, and when I shot awake in bed at 5:00 AM in the morning, I kept on feeling bad. Compounding everything, it was a Wednesday morning and I had work in a few hours. With no grand plan or vision of how I would have preferred things to go in that dream, I tried to fall back asleep. I tried to focus on physical relaxation and to stay with the emotions I was feeling as best I could without getting wrapped up in the storyline I’d just experienced or what it all might mean.
Against all odds, not only was I able to fall back asleep, I had a lucid dream that felt like the polar opposite of the nightmare I’d just experienced: I ate nourishing food, I had constructive conversations with my parents about what was bothering me in the last dream, I flew through the sky and basked in the rising sun before waking up. Needless to say, I had a pretty great Wednesday after waking up.
What I’m trying to get across by sharing this is that miraculously instant relief from all the negativity dredged up by that nightmare was accessible without the need for focused dream incubation or consciously scripting out what I would have done differently had I been lucid in that nightmare. If I was a skillful dream incubator, I’m sure doing those things would also have helped, but don’t underestimate the momentum of diligent day-time mindfulness practice and the ingenuity of the unconscious dreaming mind either. I have another example to illustrate this as well.
Changing the Mind’s Broken Record
Last month the sheer scope of all the projects I was involved in and committed to started to really weigh on me. The real flashpoint was getting dinner and drinks with some friends after hearing the introductory pitch of yet another organization I was considering joining. It was just too much. Working with this group was absolutely something I was interested in doing, but how could I ever make all the pieces fit with the rest of my life? Panic and shortness of breath started to creep in. I did what I think was a smart thing by letting my friends know what was going on for me in that moment and laughing about it with them. I still went to bed a bit anxious and with no clue what I was going to do or if I could make it all work. Lucid dreaming was not top of mind, let alone what I would want to dream about.
And yet, again, the momentum of being a diligent dream journaler and meditator must have taken over because I found myself lucid floating through the hallways of my office building. Jesus Christ, what is that awful, tense music playing? It sounds like the shit that would play while James Bond shoots people and leaps off a nuclear warhead-equipped train. Fuuuuuuuck that, no wonder I’m so anxious. I’m changing the song. What’s the most soothing thing I can think of?
The pot lights in the ceiling swell and fade green to the beat.
It’s been a month and a half since that dream. My schedule is probably still overstuffed, and all the activities in my life still don’t quite fit together. The anxiety surrounding these issues however, remains drastically reduced. Without any planning, and in a rather instinctual and spontaneous way, my dreaming mind again seemed to know what I needed better than my conscious mind did.